The Struggle for Justice for Rail Workers is Not Over

day of both victory and defeat on the floor of the Senate as we addressed the looming crisis in the rail industry.
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Thursday was a day of both victory and defeat on the floor of the Senate as we addressed the looming crisis in the rail industry. The good news is that we took on the incredible greed of the railroad corporations and managed to get every Democrat (except Joe Manchin) and six Republicans to vote to secure paid sick leave for rail workers. The bad news is that, because of the absurd rules of the Senate, despite having a majority of senators we needed 60 votes to pass the amendment. (The House had passed it the day before.) With the failure of the Senate to pass my amendment on paid sick leave, I voted against final passage of the bill.

Let me be clear. This struggle for justice for rail workers is not over.

At a time of record-breaking profits for the rail industry, it is disgraceful that workers there do not have one single day of paid sick leave. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, I will do everything I can to make sure that rail workers in America are treated with dignity and respect. They deserve that benefit as does every worker in our country.

But right now, I'd like to share with you what is going on in the railway industry today, and why Congress got involved in this labor-management conflict under the Railway Labor Act.

The American people are increasingly disgusted by the outrageous level of corporate greed they are seeing. While working families are struggling to keep their heads above water, we are seeing unprecedented income and wealth inequality and soaring corporate profits. While the rich get richer everyone else struggles. There is no better example of that greed and that reality than what is occurring in the railway industry.

The rail industry has seen huge, record-breaking profits in recent years. In the first three quarters of this year, the rail industry made $21 billion in profits. Further, the profits are so high that the industry spent $25 billion this year not to improve rail safety or address the supply chain crisis. No. They spent $25 billion to buy back its own stocks and hand out huge dividends to its wealthy stockholders.

Since 2010 the rail industry has spent over $183 billion on stock buybacks and dividends. On top of all of that, the CEOs of many of these railway companies are enjoying huge compensation packages. While workers struggle, last year the CEO of CSX made over $20 million in total compensation. The CEOs of Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern made over $14 million each.

In other words, in the railway industry corporate profits are soaring and CEOs have never had it so good. But, in the midst of all of that, what is going on for the workers?

Right now, if you are a rail worker – and this is a job that is hard and dangerous – you are entitled to a grand total of zero sick days. Let me repeat that. You are entitled to ZERO sick days if you work in the freight rail industry.

What this means is that if you get sick, or if your child or your spouse gets sick and you need to take time off of work, not only will you not get paid, you will get reprimanded and could get fired.

What the freight rail industry is saying to its workers is that it doesn't matter if you have COVID, or if you're lying in a hospital bed because of an emergency. If you do not come into work no matter what the reason, the rail industry wants the right to punish you or even fire you.

It is hard to believe these conditions still exist in America in the year 2022.

At a time when the railroads made over $21 billion in profits so far this year it turns out that guaranteeing 7 paid sick days to workers would cost the industry $321 million a year. That is less than 2 percent of their overall annual profits. This is what greed is all about.

The United States, sadly, is the only major country on Earth that doesn't guarantee paid sick days. Pathetic. In a modern civilized society, it should be a no- brainer that if you or your family gets sick, you should have paid sick leave. End of discussion.

As Congress ends this session, it is clear that we have an enormous amount of work in front of us next year. Not only do we have to address the situation in the rail industry, not only do we have to guarantee paid sick leave to all Americans, we must move forward to create an economy that works for all, and not just the few. It is not acceptable that 60 percent of American workers live paycheck to paycheck, that 85 million are uninsured or underinsured, that parents cannot afford childcare, that young people cannot attend college because of the cost and that almost 600,000 of our people are homeless. It is clearly imperative that we address the existential threat of climate change.

Bottom line. There is an enormous amount of work to be done. Let’s do it together.

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